Thursday, September 11, 2014
Royals leave Detroit with a one-game lead in the AL Central
That's because Kansas City collected perhaps its most critical win of the season Wednesday night, a 3-0 victory over the second-place Tigers at Comerica Park.
The Royals started their trip by winning two out of three games against the Yankees. That allowed them to take a two-game division lead into the Motor City, which the Tigers promptly erased with wins on Monday afternoon and Tuesday night.
The two clubs were in a virtual tie heading into Wednesday's contest, with the Royals ahead by percentage points because they had one fewer loss than the Tigers. Kansas City had dropped 11 of its first 15 head-to-head meetings against Detroit this year, and the Royals were in danger of being swept out of first place.
But, Kansas City had the right man on the mound: James Shields. The Royals haven't made the playoffs in 29 years. They are a mostly young team, and this is the first time they've been legitimately in the pennant race this late in the season in God knows how long. Shields, however, is a 32-year-old veteran who has played on playoff teams with Tampa Bay in the past, so he wasn't going to be rattled by the importance of the game.
And, oh yeah, Shields is 5-0 in eight lifetime starts at Comerica Park. He was in complete command on Wednesday night, tossing seven innings of two-hit shutout ball. Shields gave up a single to Detroit second baseman Ian Kinsler to start the game, then promptly picked him off. The Tigers didn't get another baserunner until the seventh inning. Shields finished with eight strikeouts.
Kelvin Herrera pitched the eighth and Wade Davis worked the ninth for his third save of the season in place of the injured Greg Holland (triceps). With the win, Kansas City improves to 80-64 and now enjoys a two-game lead in the loss column over the Tigers (80-66) with 18 games to play.
The schedule now tilts slightly into the Royals' favor over the next week. Kansas City comes home to play four games against AL East bottom-feeder Boston before the fourth-place White Sox come in for a three-game set. During that same period, Detroit will host three games against third-place Cleveland, which still has faint playoff hopes, then travel to last-place Minnesota for three games.
Both teams will be playing teams below them in the standings in advance of their final meeting of the season, a three-game series beginning Sept. 19 in Kansas City.
Can the underdog Royals hold off the favored Tigers, who have won the division in each of the past three seasons? This might be the most interesting divisional race of them all as we hit the final two and a half weeks of the regular season.